Author: Robin LaFevers
Published: April 3, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
“When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.”My Thoughts
― R.L. LaFevers, Grave Mercy
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart? (Goodreads)
It has been far too long since I've read any historical fiction. Actually, that was a lie. I read The Dark Queen, set in Brittany under the rule of Catherine de Medici, last spring. It was an enjoyable read, and I certainly recommend it. Grave Mercy was the perfect choice for revisiting this genre, especially since it is a mix of fantasy and history. Luckily, I am a fan of both. The storytelling was excellent, and as far as I could tell, LaFevers researched this time period thoroughly. The vivid detailing of clothing, courtiers, and architecture made for an authenticity I greatly admired. The political intrigue also kept me reading, and that wonderful mystery of whodunnit. With Grave Mercy, suspects were everywhere in a court full of backstabbing, and the duchess of Brittany could never feel completely safe when her barons were easily bribed and a French ambassador lurked nearby.
Ismae was fierce. She is far from a damsel in distress, and I love when the heroine is able to fight her own battles. Ismae was a woman who lusted after weapons and not fancy dresses. She wore a garrote bracelet, hid a crossbow under her skirts, and had knives concealed under her sleeves and in her boot. I also loved her poison making skills, and all of the different names and details given for each poison. Some were painless, while others, not so much. One thing's for sure: you do not want to get on this woman's bad side. While she killed far fewer people than I expected for an assassin, I loved how she slowly distanced herself from the convent and learned more about herself as the story progressed, especially since I wasn't a fan of her initial blind devotion.
The romance in Grave Mercy was sweet and I loved how it was slowly eased into. I'm a big fan of romances that start out with opposition and distrust because I love reading about the two lovers slowly building trust and falling for each other against all expectations. As for the one scene between the two lovebirds, I don't think it was entirely necessary. Though it certainly surprised me.
Grave Mercy did start off with messages of women empowerment, but then, about halfway through, it suddenly shifted focus. As soon as Ismae developed feelings for Duval, her issues with marriage and men disappeared. It was very abrupt, and I didn't buy it. Duval is good to her, and I'm happy that she finds love, but I wanted more progression there. Also, the pacing in the beginning was a little off. One minute, Ismae is getting married, the next she is being whisked away from her abusive husband (they were together for maybe a few hours), and then she ends up in a convent where the nuns tell her everything about their mission right away. Instead of questioning them, as a girl with trust issues and a dark past would do, Ismae jumps on the bandwagon and is suddenly a devoted follower of St. Mortain. Out of nowhere, she has no purpose but serving him. It was just too much in too little time. I wanted disbelief and slow acceptance. The plot also took a predictable turn, and the exact person I thought was the culprit was, in fact, the bad guy. But, then again, I'm always trying to anticipate endings, and I'm very picky about the finish.
Other than these complaints, I really did like Grave Mercy. It offers superb storytelling and fantasy, all taking place in a thoroughly researched setting. I'm so excited for the next two books! This series consists of companion novels, and each book will center around a different assassin from the convent. Sybella and Annith, who will be the female leads in the next two, were background characters in Grave Mercy and I can't wait to learn more about them. I recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction or fantasy. I can guarantee you'll have trouble putting it down!